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Wikileaks: Bolivia's UN rep on secret US manipulation of climate talks & West's blocking action at Cancun

[For more analysis of the Cancun climate talks, click HERE.]

December 6, 2010 -- Democracy Now! -- Secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks have revealed new details about how the United States manipulated last year’s climate talks in Copenhagen. The cables show how the United States sought dirt on nations opposed to its approach to tackling global warming, how financial and other aid was used to gain political backing, and how the United States mounted a secret global diplomatic offensive to overwhelm opposition to the [US-sponsored and -imposed] "Copenhagen Accord". We speak to Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solón. Several of the cables addressed Bolivia’s opposition to the US-backed accord.

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AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Cancún, Mexico, from the UN climate change global summit. Secret diplomatic cables released by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks have revealed new details about how the US manipulated the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen. The British Guardian newspaper (see below) reports that the cables show how the US sought dirt on countries opposed to its approach to tackling global warming, how financial and other aid was used by countries to gain political backing, and how the US mounted a secret global diplomatic offensive to overwhelm opposition to the controversial "Copenhagen Accord".

Several of the memos addressed Bolivia’s opposition to the US-backed accord. One cable from the US embassy in Brussels describes a meeting this January between European Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and White House adviser Michael Froman. The memo states, quote, "Hedegaard responded that we will need to work around unhelpful countries such as Venezuela or Bolivia. Froman agreed that we will need to neutralize, co-opt or marginalize these and others such as Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador." Soon after that meeting, the US cut off millions of dollars in environmental aid money to Bolivia and Ecuador.

Bolivia’s president Evo Morales is also criticised in the leaked cables for organising the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in April. John Creamer, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Bolivia, writes, quote, "Bolivia is already suffering real damage from the effects of global warming, but Morales seems to prefer to score rhetorical points rather than contribute to a solution. This radical position won him plaudits from anti-globalization groups, but has alienated many developed nations and most of Bolivia’s neighbors."

To talk more about the WikiLeaks cables on the international climate negotiations and Bolivia, as well as the talks here in Cancún, we’re joined by Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations. He’s holding a news conference today in Cancún.

How are these talks going?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, I would say that the final result, until now, is not good, because we don’t have a commitment from developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in a way that will stabilise the increase of the temperature well below 1 degree Celsius. Not even 2 degrees Celsius. The current pledges on the table will raise up the temperature in 4 degrees Celsius. That is catastrophic for human life and for Mother Earth.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go on talking about these talks, I wanted to ask you about these WikiLeaks cables. These are not cables by WikiLeaks, of course; they’re WikiLeaks whistleblowing website released hundreds of—a quarter of a million of US diplomatic cables that they have. You’ve just heard some of the quotes from the cables about Bolivia.

PABLO SOLÓN: Yes. I hope that we are not going to have to wait one year until we know really what happened here in Cancún, because what happened in Copenhagen is also happening here in Cancún, because there is a lot of pressure put into countries in order to force them to accept, I would say, a new version of the Copenhagen Accord. And we are afraid that we are going to have Copenhagen Accord part two in Cancún. So, for us, it is key to keep a very transparent and open negotiation, where all parties really put their positions on the table and where we negotiate. We have made a very strong criticism on Friday—on Saturday, because the papers that are put on the table don’t reflect the positions of the different parties, of the different states. They reflect the positions of the chair, of the facilitators. But we are not still in a negotiation between parties.

AMY GOODMAN: You had some of the US documents, for example, talking about the Maldives. At Copenhagen, they were fierce about the possibility of their island being submerged and that they would never cave around the issue of global warming. Then we see these documents, where they turned around, signed on to the Copenhagen Accord. No one quite knew why they turned so quickly. But the documents suggest that the US paid them tens of millions of dollars.

PABLO SOLÓN: I can only speak for facts, because one thing that I must say in relation to the WikiLeaks is that they don’t bring the facts. So, I do not want to judge any nation. But one thing that I can say for sure is they cut aid to Bolivia and to Ecuador. That is a fact. And they said it very clearly: "We’re going to cut it, because you don’t support the Copenhagen Accord." And that is blackmail.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read for you a part of the text of another leaked cable from John Creamer, the chargé d’affaires of the US embassy in Bolivia, your country. Creamer writes, quote, "Many Bolivians are quick to observe that Morales’s climate change campaign is about enhancing his global stature, not about the environment. Former Morales Production Minister and MAS replacement Senator Javier Hurtado said there is a huge gap between Morales’ strident, pro-environmental rhetoric in international fora and his domestic emphasis on industrialization as the key to development. The foundation of this effort is large-scale natural gas, iron, and lithium production projects, enterprises that have historically proven extremely damaging to the environment." Your response, Ambassador Solón?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, I think this WikiLeaks reflects the strategy of the United States against Bolivia. They want to show that Bolivia is not seriously committed to fight climate change. They want to present Bolivia as having a double standard. Of course, that is their strategy. They cannot buy us. They cannot put pressure on us. So they try to sell an image that we say one thing and we do another thing. That is absolutely not true.

Bolivia, of course—and I have always said it—is a country that needs to have industrialization, but a very sustainable industrialization. Why? Because we import in Bolivia almost everything. And they know it. We import nails, paper, everything. So we have to develop some industries. But we cannot follow the same path of development of industrialised countries, because that is unsustainable. The planet cannot accept if we all live like Americans or like Europeans. And we know it, and we want to develop a new model, that we call to live good. So, that is our point of view. But the WikiLeaks show exactly the campaign that the US has developed in order to undermine the Bolivian position in these talks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what about right now here in Cancún, Ambassador Solón? You have the possibility that Kyoto is dead, Japan saying they will not extend, which is very significant since the Kyoto Protocol was hammered out in Kyoto, Japan. The same goes also for Australia, for Canada.

PABLO SOLÓN: The problem with the Kyoto Protocol is that Japan, Canada, Australia, Russia can think that there is no need for a second commitment period, but they have signed it. They are part of the Kyoto Protocol. And the Kyoto Protocol established in its Article 3.9 that there should be a second commitment period. So, while they are part of the Kyoto Protocol—and they are still part of the Kyoto Protocol—there has to be a second commitment period. We have come here to negotiate the number of the reduction of emissions, of greenhouse gas emissions. But we haven’t come here to negotiate if there is going to be a second commitment period or not of the Kyoto Protocol. I mean, if you are a nation, a serious nation, that have signed an international binding agreement, you have to comply with it. You can ask for an amendment, you can withdraw, but while you’re part of that agreement, you have to comply. Otherwise, you’re going to be in a very difficult position, because you’re going to go against the ruling of international law.

AMY GOODMAN: The US. has been talked [inaudible] balanced package here. What do they mean?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, for the US, a balanced package is a balanced package where developed countries do whatever they want. They are not committed to a target for emission reductions. That guarantees destabilisation and increase in the temperature. And a balanced package for the United States is that also developing countries begin to do commitment. So, for them, it’s less responsibility for developed countries and more obligations for developing countries. That’s what they understand for a balanced package.

AMY GOODMAN: How, in a word, would you say these talks are going?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, from the point of Bolivia, we are going to fight until the last minute to have really a good outcome out of Cancún. The situation is very complicated now. Very difficult. We don’t see a clear movement in relation to emission reductions, strong emission reductions from developed countries. That is why it’s so difficult at this time. And just one thing. Each year, 300,000 persons die because of natural disasters that are caused by climate change. So, what we are going here to decide or to do will affect 300,000 persons that die per year because of climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you pull out of these talks if Kyoto is ended?

PABLO SOLÓN: No. We will never pull out out of any talks at a multilateral level. We will always be there fighting and defending what is legal, what are our positions, and what are the positions of all humankind.

AMY GOODMAN: How does global warming affect Bolivia?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, we have lost one-third of our glaciers in our mountains. We’ll lose, in the next decade, the other one-third. And this has terrible consequences for water, for agriculture, for biodiversity. In other areas of Bolivia, there is already almost no water. In the rivers, we begin to see that the temperatures have went very down, and we see fishes that have freeze in regions where that nearly never happen. So we’re already suffering the consequences of climate change. Look at Venezuela. Look at Colombia now. And to say, "OK, we’re going to postpone again the negotiation for one more year or maybe two more years," that’s to be irresponsible. That’s not acceptable for us.

AMY GOODMAN: At this global warming summit, you have the carbon market, all of the various companies that are very interested in what the carbon markets will look like. What does that mean? And what do you think has to be done?

PABLO SOLÓN: As we said it before, they don’t want to save humanity, but they want to save their business, their carbon market business. They want to apply to us to accept to launch new market mechanism. Bolivia has said we are not going to accept to launch new market mechanism, and we are not going to accept to have a mechanism that commodifies forests. We want to have a mechanism to save forests, to preserve forests, but not to develop a market around forests at the worldwide level.

AMY GOODMAN: How does war fit into the picture of global warming?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, that’s another key issue. Bolivia presented a paragraph saying that we should take into account also the greenhouse gas emissions that come from warfare. They have erased it. Second thing, we have said the finance for climate change should be the same finance that now developed countries give to security, defence, and even war. How much do they give? About US$1.60 trillion per year. How much do they say they are going to mobilise for climate change? Only $100 billion. So, it is really unfair to see that defense, security, war has more than 15 times than what they want to do for climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: There are few leaders that are coming here. There were over 120 in Copenhagen. Maybe there will be 20 here. President Morales is coming?

PABLO SOLÓN: President Morales is going to be here on December 9.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll certainly cover that. We hope to be interviewing him right here. Ambassador Solón, we thank you for being with us. Ambassador Pablo Solón is the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, speaking with us here in Cancún.

Guardian environment editor John Vidal on WikiLeaks and US manipulation of climate talks

December 7, 2010 -- Democracy Now! -- John Vidal, the environment editor for The Guardian of London, is in Cancún after reporting on the Copenhagen summit a year ago. The Guardian is one the five news outlets to receive the massive trove of WikiLeaks cables ahead of time and has been publishing new revelations every day. We speak to Vidal about the latest diplomatic cables on the US manipulation of the climate talks.

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AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Mexico. Here in Cancún, WikiLeaks is also a hot topic after secret diplomatic cables published by the whistleblowing group revealed new details about how the United States manipulated last year’s climate talks in Copenhagen. The Guardian newspaper reported the cables provide evidence that spying, threats and promises of aid formed part of the US diplomatic offensive to shore up the controversial Copenhagen Accord.

One striking example was the case of the Maldives, which was one of the fiercest critics advocating for a robust climate treaty. The cables reveal that in February, two months after the Copenhagen talks, the US deputy climate change envoy, Jonathan Pershing, met the European Union climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, in Brussels, where she told him, quote, "the Alliance of Small Island States countries 'could be our best allies' given their need for financing". The cables show talks between officials between the Maldives and the US referring to several projects costing approximately US$50 million. The Maldives has since wholeheartedly embraced the Copenhagen Accord.

The cables also reveal Hedegaard and Pershing also discussed the issue of "fast-start" funding where the Copenhagen Accord had promised $30 billion in aid for the poorest nations hit by global warming they had not caused. Hedegaard reportedly asked if the US would need to do any "creative accounting" in funding aid pledges.

EU climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard held a news conference yesterday here in Cancún, so I had a chance to ask her about the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about the US State Department cable documenting your conversation with Jonathan Pershing that was released by WikiLeaks about the—how the Alliance of Small Island States could be, you said, "our best allies" given their need for financing. This was a conversation you had in February. This is what’s leading many to say you’re talking about blackmail. So you have countries like Maldives, who are fierce critics in Copenhagen, turning around and signing on to the accord when they get tens of millions of dollars from the United States. You also talked about "creative accounting". Can you explain this conversation?

CONNIE HEDEGAARD: I can only say that what I could read also, and that is a one-sided and selective report of what that conversation was all about. I think that one of the things we have done from the European Union is to try to do a lot of outreach to some of the least developed countries, some of the most vulnerable countries, and for many good reasons, we want to work very much with them. For instance, I went myself this spring to the Maldives to discuss with the Maldives exactly what could be the way forward. A lot of constructive countries, we have been working with them, others we have been working with them, and our conversations definitely is not just about financing.

I’m not going into a lot of detailed things about these WikiLeak documents. You can imagine that there is a conversation. Some of it is sort of reported back home by the one side, but all the elements from the other side is not there, so it makes not a lot of sense to go in and argue a lot about what is in and what is not in. The fact is that we have done a lot of outreach with developing countries, the most vulnerable countries. We are delivering on our financial pledges. And we all know that this is very important also to the credibility of the developed countries here in Cancún.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s European Union climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard. I put a similar question to US special climate change envoy Todd Stern and his deputy envoy, Jonathan Pershing. They held a news conference right after Hedegaard. Todd Stern answered.

AMY GOODMAN: A question about the WikiLeaks documents, the US State Department cables, for example, the one in February of this year, the meeting between you, Jonathan Pershing, and the European commissioner on climate change, Hedegaard, talking about especially the Alliance of Small Island States, that they could be the "best allies" on the Copenhagen Accord, given their need for financing, and then Maldives getting millions of dollars. There’s a great deal of discussion here, inside and outside the summit, about the kind of coercion that goes on either to get nations to sign on to the accord or to punish those who won’t, like Bolivia and Ecuador. The question has been going back and forth: is it bribery or democracy? What can we expect from this? And what is your comments on the WikiLeaks release?

TODD STERN: Thanks very much. Well, on the WikiLeaks release, per se, I have no comment. And that’s a US government position, and we don’t comment on leaks of classified or private information. So I’m not going to comment on WikiLeaks directly.

I will tell one little anecdote in connection with your broader question, let’s say, which is to be reminded of one of the most forceful, eloquent and powerful interventions that was made in that long middle-of-the-night final night in Copenhagen last year, where the forceful and eloquent minister from Norway, Erik Solheim, stood up after being accused directly—and I don’t remember what country did it—of Norway engaging in bribery by being so outstandingly generous in its provision of climate assistance. And he just stood up and blasted the person who suggested that, by saying, you know, you can’t, on the one hand, ask for and make a strong case, legitimately strong case, for the need for climate assistance and then, on the other hand, turn around and accuse us of bribery. I mean, if you want to accuse us of bribery, then, you know, you don’t need to—you don’t need to—we can eliminate any cause for accusation of bribery by eliminating any money. And Erik was powerful in that statement. I agreed with it 110 per cent then, and I do now.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the countries that were punished then, Bolivia, Ecuador, for not signing?

TODD STERN: Let’s go to the next question.

MODERATOR: I think we’ll go to the next question, and we’ll turn to this side of the room.

AMY GOODMAN: That follow-up question that I asked the US special climate change envoy—Todd Stern refused to answer—was about the US withholding funds to countries like Ecuador and Bolivia, when they refused to sign on to the Copenhagen Accord.

John Vidal, the environment editor for the London Guardian, reported on the exchange. John Vidal covered the UN climate talks in Copenhagen and is in Cancún covering the summit here. His newspaper is one of five news outlets to receive the massive trove of WikiLeaks cables ahead of time and has been publishing new revelations every day. I asked John Vidal about the latest diplomatic cables on the US manipulation of the climate talks.

JOHN VIDAL: We’ve lifted the lid on what actually happens at conferences like that, and we begin to see the kind of intense pressure and arm twisting and blackmail and different tactics, which has always been used by the rich countries over the poor countries. The only new thing now is that it is—we actually have it written down, we can see it for the first time with our own eyes. So what, you know, we tried to report two years ago, three years ago, whatever, now we actually know. We know for a fact this happened and that happened and he said that and what. The surprising thing is it’s not surprising, in a funny way. I mean, it’s like, we always suspected that this is how [the US] operates, and now we know. So, in a way, our information was good at the time. I think that Bolivia and other countries’ reaction has been very, very interesting, because that’s that outrage that the—how the rich have been bullying and press ganging the poor. It’s a terrible situation.

AMY GOODMAN: You refer to the terrible night in Copenhagen. Explain exactly what you meant, what went down, and what was revealed in the WikiLeaks documents.

JOHN VIDAL: Copenhagen was just a complete nightmare, a diplomatic meltdown, I think is the fairest way to say it, where you had countries accusing each other of genocide. You had a total failure of the diplomatic process, that text which was meant to enhance everybody and bring them together in fact did the absolute opposite, and it shattered the confidence and the trust between different countries. And WikiLeaks just shows us, from that one point of view of the US cables, that—but this was happening in many, many other countries. It wasn’t just the US. You know, if we could get hold of the British equivalent of WikiLeaks or the French or the Germans or the Canadians or whatever, we would see similar things, I’m quite sure. This is international diplomacy, which is a very, very dirty business.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the money that was offered to countries, the tens of millions of dollars that we see in the WikiLeaks documents, for example, offered to places like Maldives, the country that was fierce, their representatives, about getting some kind of global warming deal at Copenhagen, and then signed on to the accord?

JOHN VIDAL: I mean, that’s how these meetings work. I mean, frankly, it goes to the line, in the end, there’s this horse trading thing where I’ll give you money if you side with me. This is how—this is how the world works. I mean, we’re seeing it very clearly. It is not at all amiable negotiation. People are using every tactic under the book, including blackmail, including, you know, finance. They’re using muscle. They’re threatening. And that’s what happens in the last hours of these conferences. And we’ll it again, similar, this time. It won’t be quite as bad, because there’s not so much at stake at this particular meeting. But when it goes forward next year to Durban, we will see exactly the same stuff, and even in spades. We’ll see far more [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: Why is there less at stake here in Cancún?

JOHN VIDAL: Because they’re not trying to find a final agreement. They’re trying to find a path to a final agreement. So they have limited their—their ambition is much less than it was last year. So they’re going to push it all forward to next year, so they can have more talks in between or whatever. But they have to make some very, very important decisions. And even to get to there, they will need to twist arms. But they won’t—I don’t think we’ll be seeing the money. I don’t think we’ll be seeing that kind of pressure as we saw last time.

There’s trillions of dollars at stake. I mean, that’s the point about this. You know, for a country to offer US$100 million to another country in these circumstances is not great, when the prize may be $10 billion or $100 billion. I mean, a REDD agreement on forests may be worth $30 billion a year to carbon markets, to developing countries. A good deal on carbon markets might be worth $100 billion. I mean, you know, we’re talking about massive flows of money here. And so, it’s not surprising that countries are offered or being offered, you know, an awful lot of money under the counter to develop.

AMY GOODMAN: John Vidal, there are much—many fewer of the elite media represented here. Some might say it’s because they act as stenographers to power, that the leaders are not here—maybe there will be 20 leaders here, but before, at Copenhagen, there were 120—and so they don’t bother coming. And when they don’t bother coming, it doesn’t rev up the conversation in their country about this critical issue of global warming. So, in Copenhagen, we saw thousands of journalists packed into the press halls. Here, we’re often in a room with no one else.

JOHN VIDAL: Yeah, and in a funny way, I think that’s quite a good thing, because world leaders have a sort of an awful habit of mucking up everything. I mean, they destroyed the talks last year, because they didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. I mean, most world leaders are absolutely, totally ignorant when they turn up in a meeting like this, which is being very carefully negotiated by diplomats and trade people and whatever over a long period of time. The world leaders come in, they are given a choice, and they make a political choice. Fair enough. But if you want to get decent agreements, you need the negotiations beforehand. You need that careful thing. And that’s what we’re seeing much more of here. That’s why these talks will not collapse in the same way, is because there are very few world leaders here, so there’s much less grandstanding, far fewer presidents standing up and making their sort of enormous points or whatever.

Yes, I mean, the media is always attracted to power. I mean, it’s as simple as that, because that’s the way these things operate. And the fact that not all the world’s media is here, I don’t think matters particularly at this point. I mean, by next year, when these talks are, you know, at their final conclusion or reaching their conclusion, then you will see absolutely everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: But then leaders like US President Obama can use that as a way to take pressure off of him at home, his base deeply concerned about global warming. But he is—the question is, who is he catering to? And if he comes here, it will raise the question once again. If he doesn’t, he can be sure that most of the media that will cover him will not be here.

JOHN VIDAL: He came to Copenhagen last year. He made a complete mess of it. And he went back with his [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: That’s not how it was conveyed in the United States.

JOHN VIDAL: Well, no. But I mean—but the reality was that it was a disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: What did he do? What made the mess of it?

JOHN VIDAL: Well, he didn’t have anything to offer, so he came here when Hillary Clinton had already made a financial offer and whatever. There was nothing for him to do. So he came, and he started blaming China, which was like the maddest thing you could possibly do in that situation. And so, he—it was a big strategic mistake, and it set the talks back absolutely enormously. So the presence of these guys, the big beasts of the diplomatic jungle, presence of these guys here can work—that’s what they hoped last year—but it’s a high-risk strategy, and it can all fall apart. And that’s what happens, so they’re desperate, desperate, not to go down that road again.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Kyoto, the Kyoto Protocol being dead? Japan, Canada, Australia saying they’re not going to sign on to an extension?

JOHN VIDAL: Yeah. I don’t know about Australia, but yeah, I mean, it’s a fairly extreme position. And so, it’ll be very interesting to see whether they can, whether the other countries, like Britain or Brazil or whoever, can roll them back and get them to soften their position. You know, is it a negotiating position? It maybe is, so that, you know, next year they can gain purchase from it and get credit. So when countries take a position here, it is very often for a very, very specific reason. So, we don’t need to be too alarmed by it yet, but I would say that it just leaves an awful lot of work to be done.

AMY GOODMAN: The Guardian is one of the newspapers that released the WikiLeaks documents. The US government is slamming on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks right now, basically calling—many in the US government are calling him a terrorist. What do you say about that?

JOHN VIDAL: Well, it’s an outrage. It’s absurd. You know, I mean, you have to believe in a transparent media and government. I mean, so it’s like, you know—it’s absurd. It’s absurd. I mean, this is the US bullying an individual because it has been embarrassed. This is the elephant blaming the fly. You know, the US should clearly look to itself. I mean, it was—its diplomats made those statements at that time. They were working in the public interest. They are paid by the public. It is outrageous that now—

AMY GOODMAN: And the US saying that the release of the documents will muck up diplomacy? Do you think that’s a good thing?

JOHN VIDAL: It certainly may happen. I don’t know how—I think diplomats may be a little bit more careful now about what they actually say. No, it won’t muck up diplomacy, because diplomacy is very much of the moment. It may very much make countries think about very carefully about what they put—what they commit to paper and computers and whatever.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you think the release of the documents will improve this conference here in Cancún?

JOHN VIDAL: Yeah, because anything to exorcise the ghosts of—as Pablo Solón says, of Bolivia, anything which can exorcise the ghosts of that terrible, horrible night in Copenhagen, when the whole thing collapsed, has to be a good thing. So this adds in to that debate, and that makes it easier and clearer, and it gives people like Bolivia even more moral strength to fight for what it believes is the best solution to these things.

AMY GOODMAN: John Vidal is the environment editor at The Guardian of London. His article on my exchange with Todd Stern is called "US Envoy Rejects Suggestion that America Bribed Countries to Sign up to the Copenhagen Accord." We’ll link to it at This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from Cancún, Mexico, from the UN climate change talks.

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